Malaysia sells halal to China

Halal is big business. With an estimated 1.8bn Muslims around the globe (and growing), the market for supplying Muslim-friendly food products is expanding into the most far-flung reaches of the world. Malaysia – a Muslim majority country – wants to capitalise on this $560bn-a-year food industry by exploiting the growing appetite for halal in China.
China’s Islamic Association reckons there are more than 22m Muslims in the country – other estimates put the figure as high as 40m. The market for halal products is estimated at $1bn, and boasts an impressive growth rate of 10 per cent a year.
Matrade, Malaysia’s External Trade Corporation, wants to target the north-western province of Gansu – where 10 per cent of the 25m population is Muslim – as a market for its ‘halal enterprises’.
“There are numerous opportunities in the Gansu province that can be taken advantage of”, Matrade is quoted as saying in Bernama, Malaysia’s national news agency, on Monday.
“Due to the current lack of products from other Asean countries in these provinces, Malaysian halal products and services have the potential in creating an early market presence and lead”.
Translated as ‘that which is lawful’ for Muslims, the tag of halal is applicable to any number of categories, from cosmetics to clothing. But it is food and catering that offer the most lucrative area for international growth, with supermarkets, restaurants, and fast-food outlets jumping on the (halal) gravy train in non-Muslim majority countries.
Halal meat is differentiated from non-halal based largely on the process of slaughter. Islamic regulations stipulate that the animal must be healthy, the butcher make a recitation to God, and the jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe are cut in a single movement allowing for immediate death and the full draining of blood.
In addition to tying up Malaysia’s food producers with retailers in Gansu, Matrade is also looking to provide a certifying service for China’s halal products.
The logic behind providing halal goods to food retailers in areas with a large Muslim population is simple. Companies do not want to preclude their meat products being sold to some consumers based simply on a technicality. Indeed, the halal label is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in the Far-East. For the 3.8m Muslims in Singapore, all branches of McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell in the country are 100 per cent halal.
Islam has a 1200 year history in China but most of its indigenous halal industries, which deal mainly in beef and mutton, are small-scale operations in areas such as Xinjiang, Henan and Guangdong where there is a large Muslim population.
But China is waking up and smelling the halal in more ways than one. Not only is it looking to increase the provision of halal goods through imports, but China wants to develop its halal credentials to serve the demands of the wider Muslim world.
Beijing has hosted the International Halal Food and Products Fair since 2008, showcasing Chinese halal exports to the Middle East and South East Asia. Ningxia, in the west of the country, now boasts a Halal Food Industrial Park that aims to serve the ‘wider Islamic world’ as well as the estimated 30,000 foreign Muslim businessmen who live and trade in the region.
Trade between China and the Arab world exceeded $66bn last year, but for China’s Muslims at least, their shopping lists just got a little bit longer.